By Kim Tae-jong
Actor Im Chae-moo
was considered a sex icon in the 1980s, but he took on the image of a courteous and generous gentleman in television melodramas after he turned 40.
At 57, the veteran actor is again a new man, or new actor, so to speak. He plays the head of a shabby recording company in the new movie "Highway Star
With his dragon tattoos, he strikes an intimidating figure. Yet the dragons hang loosely over his aging midriff. His gentlemanly aura is gone, replaced by the seriousness _ and weirdness _ of an old music executive.
What prompted him to throw away his trademark image and go through this drastic change?
Im said actors should be able to do anything, and he thinks acting is always a serious job no matter which genre he chooses.
"Comedies are now a quite popular genre, in which I play a role. I didn't do silly or stupid things on purpose. I try to be faithful to a script", Im said during an interview with The Korea Times on Friday.
The new film is his first. In the film, his character notices that a rocker has the potential to Make It Big
in "trot music", which is similar to melodramatic Japanese enka songs. His serious and passionate character is a major source of jokes in the movie. The humor is mainly situational.
Im's efforts to change his image began last year when he starred in a TV commercial.
He played a football referee in a parody of the 2002 World Cup. He performed funny running moves and held up a chocolate ice-cream stick instead of a red card. The commercial was a huge hit, earning him a commercial of the year prize and serving as a turning point in his acting career.
He took a role in the cast of the MBC comedy "Golden Fishery", in which he played a range of unusual characters wearing silly wigs and costumes and doing weird things in weird situations.
It was a risky decision for Im because the changes could have damaged his reputation. But Im said the challenges have been fun.
"I realized that leading actors in melodramas have only limited opportunities to take on new characters. I hoped to take a new role before it was too late. The chance finally came to me, and I'm happy with the results", Im said.
But didn't he want to become like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, maintaining and developing his image?
"Of course, yes. But the local film industry does not allow us (actors in their 50s) to be like them, and we don't have an opportunity to be like them", he said. "Most films are just for young audiences and young actors. So many films lack reality. How could a man in his early 20s be a CEO of a big company?"
He said the dominance of young actors is not something that should be criticized but it often leads to productions of cliched melodramas, and sometimes, tragic results for young stars.
He blamed the current management system for the recent suicides of young stars.
"Without preparation, you become a star overnight, after a miniseries or just one film. You don't know what to do next or can't handle the sudden popularity. And soon other stars replace you. I think this factory-like production of stars has led to the current suicide incidents and depression among young stars", Im said.
He is now shooting another comedy film, "Unavoidable Wedding", in which he plays a wacky character.
"I don't have a specific plan for future. But at the moment, I want to enjoy working on the film. If possible, I'd like to star in movies for a few more years. I've got still many sides of me to show to the audience", Im said.